ALBANY — Within two weeks of watching city police in riot gear quell violent demonstrators, Mayor Kathy Sheehan signed an Executive Order to remove the statue honoring Revolutionary War hero Maj. Gen Philip Schuyler from in front of City Hall.
The edict, signed on Friday, June 11, directs the city’s Department of General Services to remove the 95-year-old statue “as soon as possible.” The order directs that the statue be given to a museum or institution for “future display with the appropriate historical context.”
“Scores of community members have reached out to my office requesting the removal of the statue of former slave owner Gen. Philip Schuyler and I thank those residents for making their voices heard,” said the mayor. “It has become clear that now is the time to act and confront the unfortunate history of our nation.”
The order cites the social unrest that has caught several cities on fire in the weeks following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was restrained by police, held on the ground by three police officers, one of which placed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd died moments later, but not before complaining to officers that he could not breathe. His death is one of a long chain of suspicious and controversial events often chanted in recent demonstrations as examples of systemic racism by police.
Policymakers in the South have rekindled actions to remove monuments depicting figures honoring their past as part of the Confederacy. Many of such monuments were erected long after the Civil War and during the height of a Jim Crow system of institutional segregation. Statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis have been removed from municipal properties in recent days in similar acts of contrition cited by Sheehan in Albany.
“As I recall, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson were slave owners as were many of our founding fathers,” said Ken Ringler. The former Bethlehem town supervisor said he could understand tearing down Jim Crow era monuments because they served as means of intimidating blacks after emancipation. But, he said, “I don’t understand this move.”
Schuyler’s name has become a household name again after the popularity of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Schuyler was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, but more importantly he is credited for helping guide the American Colonies towards independence. He was elected to the New York General Assembly in 1768 and later served in the Continental Congress before his appointment as a major general of the Continental Army in 1775. It was his army that earned a pivotal victory over British forces in Saratoga. However, poor health drew him away from the battlefield. His troops were led by General Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold. Nonetheless, Schuyler’s likeness, wearing formal military wear, has stood in front of Albany’s City Hall since 1925.
Schuyler has long been honored for his role as a statesman and military man during our country’s birth. As a prominent businessman and landowner, however, he was also one of the area’s largest slave owners. That last fact has drawn more attention from city residents.
Albany’s Common Council, which Schuyler was elected to as an assistant alderman, addressed those concerns last week.
“Hearing the calls of community members, I stand with my fellow citywide elected officials and support the removal of the Gen. Philip Schuyler monument from in front of city hall and its placement at an institution with proper historical context,” said Common Council President Corey Ellis.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik was critical of the decision, accusing Sheehan of being “reactionary.”
“Mayor Sheehan’s short-sighted announcement to take down the statue of Philip Schuyler in Albany is an example of the reactionary actions we are seeing in other areas of the country in place of meaningful policy reforms,” the congresswoman said in a statement.
The Albany native said she’d rather see policymakers enact “real and meaningful policy changes” to eliminate racism, rather than tear down statues and erase history. However, she offered a place to keep the statue once it is removed from City Hall.
“If Mayor Kathy Sheehan removes the statue of Philip Schuyler, our local bipartisan community leaders in Schuylerville will welcome the statue here as an opportunity to commemorate his role in our nation’s founding with appropriate historical context,” Stefanik said.